As a school-based OT, having a range of tools and resources is essential to cater to the diverse needs of students. The right materials can significantly impact the success of therapy sessions, whether targeting physical, cognitive, or emotional needs. While I’ve covered a more general list of items before, now I want to share my personal favorite items for school-based OT.
Fine and Visual Motor Items for School-Based OT:
Developing fine motor skills is crucial for enhancing dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and occupations like written expression. Here are my faves:
- Twist N Write pencils
- broken crayons
- small/golf pencils
- 3-lined paper
- bingo daubers
- spring-loaded scissors
- squeeze/loop scissors
- bubble tongs/bug catchers
- Play-Doh and accompanying tools
Gross Motor Items for School-Based OT
Improving balance, coordination, and strength can be achieved through various gross motor skill building tools. In most of the districts I’ve worked, PTs or APE teachers cover most gross motor needs. But when I have worked on these skills, I’ve loved to use the natural environment of the playground. In addition, I’ve found the following helpful:
- therapy balls
- Bosu ball
- play balls
- balance boards
Sensory Items for School-Based OT
Sensory tools can play a crucial role in preparing students for learning, regulating emotions, and enhancing focus. Here are the ones I go to most frequently:
- fidget tools
- chew tools
- noise-canceling headphones or earbuds
- study carrels
- rocking classroom chairs
- wobble stools
Social-Emotional Regulation Items for School-Based OT
Social-emotional resources are essential for improving communication, interaction, and regulation skills. Here are some items I use in my practice often:
- social stories
- calming corner items
- Zones of Regulation
Assistive Technology Items/Programs for School-Based OT:
Assistive technology plays a vital role in enabling students with disabilities to participate in activities independently. This is one of my favorite areas of practice, so I have a lot of items I would recommend:
- stylus for touch-screen devices
- Read&Write for Google Chrome
- Learning Ally
- Writing Wizard
Executive Function Items for School-Based OT
Supporting executive function skills is crucial for students to be able to get their schoolwork done. I also love supporting this area, and use the following often:
- visual timers
- planners/calendars (digital and physical)
- color-coded folders
Adaptive Equipment for School-Based OT
Adaptive equipment aids in modifying daily tasks to facilitate students’ participation. Here’s what I tend to utilize:
- EazyHold/universal cuffs
- built-up utensils
- non-slip bowls and plates
- scoop bowls
- plate guards
- rocker knife
- button hook
- alternative shoelaces
- adaptive clothing
Other Considerations When Buying Items for School-Based OT
This list represents just some of the items you might want to consider to have an effective school-based occupational therapy program. If you’re looking for more support for school-based OT treatment planning, check out this article full of worksheets, activities, and other resources that you can find online.
It’s also important to keep in mind that not all of these items will be appropriate for every student, so it’s important to tailor your selection to the specific needs of your students. Additionally, it’s important to work closely with other members of the school’s special education team, including teachers, to ensure that the resources you provide are used to their fullest potential. Personally, I mostly push into the classroom, so I focus on obtaining items that support that style of therapy, and usually leave the items in the class so my student always has access to them.
One other thing to note is that you should never spend your own money on therapy items. I know, I know. It’s so tempting. But for those of you who are ready to hear it, I want you to know why this practice ends up being harmful for your students.
It’s rooted in good intentions, right? School districts are often strapped for cash, but you want your students to have the best experience possible. So you hit up the Target dollar spot to buy treatment materials, fun games, or incentives.
No biggie – it’s 5 bucks here, 20 bucks there. You’ll “write it off” on your taxes later. And you can justify it because you’re enriching the therapy experience for your students, right?
Maybe in the short term. But in the long-term, this is not a sustainable practice. There will come a time when you can’t keep funding therapy out of your own pocket. Maybe it’s because you need something specialized that they don’t sell at Dollar Tree. Maybe it’s because it’s something SUPER expensive. Maybe it’s just that your partner lost their job and you no longer have the discretionary income you used to.
No matter the scenario, something will happen that will require you to go to your district for funding. And do you know what your admin will think?
It’s not going to be the warm and fuzzy, “Aww, our OT never asks for anything – let’s just give it to her.”
Their thought process is going to be a lot more along the lines of, “We have never had to increase the budget in this area before. Why now? And is what they’re asking for justified and truly necessary?”
Remember: you are providing a service that is legally required and educationally necessary. That means that as hard as it might be to budget, your school district needs to give you the materials you need to do your job effectively
As a school-based OT, it’s important to have a variety of tools and resources at your disposal to help support the diverse needs of your students. Having the right materials can make a big difference in the success of your therapy sessions. While every caseload will differ, I hope this list of my favorite items for school-based OT gives you some ideas for students of your own! And if you’re looking for more support with school-based intervention, be sure to check out The Dynamic School OT Course. There’s a huge module on intervention strategies/treatment planning as well as resources on evaluation, scheduling, and recommending services.